H.479 Analysis: Taxing Nuclear Power Plants

The power to tax is the power to destroy

by Howard Shaffer

MONTPELIER – The Vermont legislature took up this week H.479, A Tax on Used Nuclear Fuel stored in Vermont, and a Fund for Nuclear Generating Plants Site Restoration. The bill does two things. It initiates a tax applicable to any nuclear generating plant in the state on used nuclear fuel stored in Vermont, and it taxes them for a fund to be used to return the sites to “Greenfield” condition.

The “Spent Nuclear Fuel Tax”, collected yearly, has two parts: $2 million on each Dry Cask, and an amount depending on how much fuel is in the pool, determined by a formula in the bill. This tax goes into a new Clean Energy Development Fund. The present payments to the fund end on March 21 when the Vermont Yankee plant’s original license expires. The license has been renewed by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission for 20 more years. This tax begins as soon as the bill becomes law and ends when the fuel is out of the state. For Vermont Yankee, with nine Dry Casks, the tax would be $18 million for casks, plus approximately $15 million for fuel in the pool, depending on how the formula is interpreted.

The “Postclosure Funding Tax” is $25 million per year on nuclear generating plants, beginning as soon as the bill becomes law. This tax is to insure the return of the sites to use without a long delay. The money is held in an interest-bearing fund. It is paid out for activities that return the sites to “Greenfield” conditions. The tax stops when the Public Service Board finds that the sites have been restored. Excess funds, including interest, are returned to the plant’s owners. Activities paid for are those beyond NRC required radiological clean up. Decommissioning activities can only be reimbursed when all other funds are gone.

Considerations

Politics: The state bargained with Entergy to pay a yearly fee to the Clean Energy Development Fund, in order to approve the Dry Cask storage of “spent fuel” on the Vermont Yankee site. (It is correctly called “used fuel”) The fee will stop when the original license ends on March 21 this year. Another “cash cow” is needed. The way things are now, the Dry Casks will be in Vernon for many years. Therefore, a tax on all the used fuel is a good source. Moreover, the Clean Energy Development fund continues as a source of funds for politically connected wind and solar developers. Perfect.

Technical Flaws: Tax on used fuel in the pools. The bill has a formula based on the volume of fuel. It says, “..divide $2 million by the average cubic capacity of the dry casks…and multiply… by 50 percent.” This results in a number whose units are “dollars per cubic foot.” To get a dollar number, this must be multiplied by some number of cubic feet. That would be the cubic feet of all the used fuel in the pool. This is implied by the bill, but not in the formula. Looks like this wasn’t written by engineers. What is the volume of fuel? Just the pellets, or all the supporting metal too? This could be another “full employment for lawyers” issue.

Greenfield. This term is widely used to mean, “Putting it back the way it was so something else can be done safely there.” Another widely used term is “Brownfield” which means, “Cleaning it up so some other activity requiring restrictions on use can be done there.”

The bill defines “Greenfield” as “removal of all above- and- below grade structures, equipment and foundations..” This seems excessive. It is probably not necessary to dig down 60 feet or more and remove the concrete Base Mat under the foundations. What should be done is what’s needed to make the site available for the next use. The NRC will oversee Decommissioning and insure the site is safe for use. The new use ought to be determined while Decommissioning is being planned and carried out. The bill ought to allow keeping anything that will be needed for the new use.

Future use of the site. The bill, which applies to any nuclear power plant, says, “… a site is well-suited and situated for electric generation and transmission.” They are, for compact generating sources. Wind and solar generation in their present form won’t work at these sites. There is not enough space for the many wind turbines and solar panels needed for significant amounts of power. Clean coal, natural gas, or wood burning plants could fit.

How Opponents Might Use this Bill

Opponents have already circulated a petition to towns and cities within 20 miles of the plant, requesting support for a tri-state Decommissioning Oversight Committee. They intend to meddle, as they have elsewhere in New England. Their “contribution” consists of trying to get ridiculously low levels of radioactive contamination as cleanup standards. This has resulted in hauling off multiple truckloads of demolished concrete that pass granite boulders along the road that are more radioactive than the cargo. This is really just another attempt to run up the cost, thus giving nuclear power another black eye, to further the opponents’ worldwide agenda.

The opponents would probably use the Greenfield definition to get as much removed as possible, including roads and parking lots, because the site “might be used for farming.” This would use up the funds so that there would be nothing left for the owners.

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